"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

We shouldn’t let the Concerned Taxpayers of America go without pointing out in the involvement in another Northwest congressional race of Americans for Prosperity.

Americans for Prosperity is, one detailed study says, “the third largest recipient of funding from the Koch Family Foundations, behind the Cato Institute and the George Mason University Foundation. Before 2003, when the AFP was still named the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation, it received $18,460,912 in funding. 84% of that funding came from the Koch Family Foundations ($12,906,712) and the Scaife Family Foundations ($2,510,000). Koch Family Foundations is funded by Koch Industries. According to Forbes, Koch Industries is the second largest privately-held company, and the largest privately owned energy company, in the United States. Koch industries has made its money in the oil business, primarily oil refining. Presently, it holds stakes in pipelines, refineries, fertilizer, forest products, and chemical technology.”

Big money from major national corporations, being dumped in massive fashion into the Washington 3rd House district race – to the campaign of Republican Jaime Herrera. (Her opponent is Democrat Denny Heck.)

The Horse’s Ass blog points out the Prosperity group is “contributing $5,000 directly to her campaign, and spending at least another $282,000 … attacking her Democratic opponent, Denny Heck. It is the ultimate insult to WA-03 voters; first the New York-based Kochs make millions closing local mills and outsourcing jobs, and now they’re spending a portion of their profits to purchase themselves another congresswoman. You know… the free market at work.”

As a side note, little of any of this would matter if American voters did the single smartest and simplest thing they could do: Totally ignore all political advertising. But until they do, or until some meaningful reform from the current insanity takes place, elections may be simply up for auction.

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Remember the Concerned Taxpayers of America, the group running the basically anonymous slimy television spots against Representative Peter DeFazio? The guys whose identity DeFazio tried to find out by personally walking over their headquarters (and getting stonewalled, on video)?

The Washington Post pulled the paperwork that now establishes who this broad-based alliance of concerned American taxpayers, who have been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into negative TV spots in Oregon’s 4th district, actually are:

Two guys. The owner of Daniel G. Schuster Inc., which operated a concrete company, and spent $300,000; and Robert Mercer, a hedge fund manager from New York, who spent $200,000.

Just thought the people of Oregon’s 4th would like to know.

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The ballot has arrived

We see via Facebook reports from some people in Oregon who’ve not yet gotten their ballots. We’ll hope those arrive soon.

Ours in fact have arrived in the mail. (A pitch: Vote by mail is more than just convenient. It allows for reflective and researched decisions. Not that everyone will avail themselves of that option, but it at least allows for it more than standing in a booth where you have to make your decisions right now.)

Ours will be back in the voting box later today or tomorrow at the latest. How about yours?

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Context. Context. Where it hit some people’s attention was in the peculiar one-sentence press release from the Newberg, Oregon, chamber of commerce: A member of the government affairs committee had been expelled. Peculiar, but would it matter to anyone but the chamber?

If you get more than that one sentence, a big ball of twine starts to unravel. As it happens, the McMinnville News Register was on to the story days before the expulsion, and last weekend ran a big, and fascinating, article about the politics behind it.

Briefly, the expellee was Yamhill County Commissioner Leslie Lewis, a long-time major figure in county politics (years ago she rose to leadership in the state legislature) – and a key supporter this year of commission candidate Mary Starrett, a very conservative (former Constitution Party candidate) who is trying to unseat incumbent Mary Stern, who has a good deal of Democratic support. The Newberg chamber is a conservative group (that city probably will be Starrett’s major base in the election), but at a recent meeting there, Lewis crossed a line.

From the News-Register: “Yamhill County Commissioner Leslie Lewis is under criminal investigation by the state Department of Justice for allegedly secretly videotaping one or more candidates during private Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce endorsement interviews in Newberg and then passing that tape on to others. The taping was allegedly done in April, but just came to light with the posting of a heavily edited excerpt from Commissioner Mary Stern’s endorsement interview on YouTube and a conservative Republican website.”

Now the state attorney general’s office is investigating in what is described as a criminal investigation. Protesters today called on Lewis to resign. (Democratic protesters, to be sure, but they’d never had a basis for such a demand before.) And Lewis’ base, the heart of the Newberg business community – the mayor among others is on the panel – has turned on her.

A local matter to a considerable degree. But we wouldn’t be surprised if, two or four years from now, this incident wound up having some real structural impact on the politics of this county of almost 100,000.

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weekly Digest

Yes, it’s nearing the end of campaign season, and the economy is still in the tank. Those facts were reflected in this week’s Digests, but so was a lot else.

Some of the highlights, for example, from the Idaho edition: “Negotiations yield health care trust; More comment on water quality plan; UI research outpost at Post Falls approved.” Not that these made big headlines elsewhere. (We approach “the narrative” in a different way.) From Washington: “New ferry launches; More support on Alaskan Way? Corrections union okays COLA forbearance.” A little off the beaten path.

As a reminder: We’re now publishing weekly editions of the Public Affairs Digests – for Idaho, Washington and Oregon – moving from a monthly to a weekly rundown of what’s happening. And we’re taking it all-electronic: The print edition will be moving to e-mail.

That means we can include more information, and get it out a lot faster: The weekly Digests will be in your in-box first thing Monday morning. If you subscribe, of course: That’s $59 a year, for 50 issues and the yearbook. Yes, including the yearbook. The Idaho Yearbook, which we published for years up to 2002, will return early in 2011 – in printed book form – and Digest subscribers get it for free with their subscription. And the Oregon and Washington yearbooks will be coming out at the same time.

If you’d like to take a look at one of the new weekly Digests, here’s a link to the Idaho edition, to the Oregon edition and to the Washington edition. If you’d like to subscribe, here are the links (through to PayPal) for Idaho, for Oregon and for Washington.

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Interesting perspective piece out from the Associated Press about the Port of Lewiston, the most inland U.S. port on the Pacific Coast, and one of Idaho’s significant links to shippers to points west.

The article’s most immediate point was that shipping at the port is down, which is what you might expect given the depressed economy. (Other western ports, including such as Portland with which Lewiston works significantly, are down somewhat too.)

But the larger point in the article has to do with what looks like important structural changes that may change the port’s role in years to come. Some shippers are moving toward trucking, it said; others are realigning their approaches now that fewer ships, on less frequent schedules, are making their way so far inland.

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Not that we put a lot of stock in all those many surveys that show which states are good for various things – business? raising kids? retirement? whatever – but this one, coming as it does near the close of a campaign season revolving heavily around the economy, might be worth a quick interstate look.

Forbes magazine released its annual listing of the 50 states ranked according to business favorability. All three Northwest states did pretty well.

Washington came in 5th, from 2nd last year. Oregon was 6th, up from 10th a year ago. And Idaho dropped a spot from 11 to 12.

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The close districts (in purple); projected D blue, projected R red

Usually, there aren’t as many congressional districts in serious play as there are this year, and that’s true in the Northwest as well as elsewhere. Of the Northwest’s 16 U.S. House districts, five to seven can be realistically considered competitive, more than usual. We’ll rank them here from the basis of most like to turn over in party control.

Most of the region’s districts are, as usual, unlikely to change hands, or change member of congress. Only one Northwest House seat is open – the Washington 3rd, vacated by Democrat Brian Baird; in the remaining 15, incumbents are running again, and even in a year like this, beating an incumbent isn’t easy.

Both parties have safe seats. Among Democrats, those would include the Washington 1st (Jay Inslee), 6th (Norm Dicks) and 7th (Jim McDermott), and the Oregon 3rd (Earl Blumenauer) and 4th (Peter DeFazio). Among Republicans, those would include the Washington 4th (Doc Hastings) and 5th (Cathy McMorris-Rodgers), the Oregon 2nd (Greg Walden) and the Idaho 2nd (Mike Simpson). Yes, a pile of money is being dumped into the Oregon 4th on behalf of an – can we say eccentric as a a diplomatic term? – eccentric candidate, but we suspect it’ll be wasted because DeFazio is thoroughly entrenched there.

Two other districts look strongly likely for incumbent re-election but bear watching – we won’t put them away just yet. One is the Washington 9th, where Democrat Adam Smith has been winning strongly for a decade but where recent polling has given him mediocre numbers against someone who should be a minor candidate. It’s not enough to suggest Smith is on the edge, but enough the it should send his campaign people scrambling to make sure of their ground. The Oregon 1st is a slightly different case, where Democrat David Wu seems about as secure as usual (he too has been winning here for a decade). But Wu has a stronger and more aggressive opponent than usual in Republican Rob Cornilles. (You see his signs thick, across much of the district.) By all conventional measures Wu seems in decent shape; that could change if this turns into a truly unconventional election.

Those 11 races feel, at least for now, like reasonably safe calls. The remaining five are the races that given you some pause when it comes to predictions. And if you’re a partisan, these are the Northwest House races that should be occupying your attention.

1. Washington 3 (open; Democrat Denny Heck, Republican Jaime Herrera).

This one, in the Northwest’s only open House seat, ought to give predictors fits. The polling has tended to favor Herrera, and so has most of the predictive punditry. She has some definite advantages, running with the “out” party in angry times, and she has some clear campaigning skills. Heck comes with some unusual strengths, though, a much deeper record in the district and a more distinctive personality – he comes across as much less partisan cookie-cutter than she does. He has more money (twice as much according to the Center for Responsive Politics). Probably the smart money still goes with Herrera, but this race is far, far from over. It could land either way.

2. Oregon 5 (incumbent Democrat Kurt Schrader, Republican Scott Bruun).

This one looked close when Bruun, one of the most respected of Oregon state House members, announced his challenge, and it is closely competitive now. Bruun has had much less money than Schrader (less than half as much), but that may be changing, and there’s word of a late last-minute massive national Republican money dump (of more than $1 million). Prognosticators have gone back and forth on this one, as have we; our initial take was a narrow Schrader win, then sensing a narrow Bruun win. Right now, with ballots to drop this weekend, it’s very hard to know. This is a truly centrist district overall (as is the Washington 3rd). Schrader has worked hard to bill himself as a centrist Democrat. Bruun (and his advocates) have tried to paint Schrader as a tool of national Democrats. But at the same time, Bruun has been lurching hard to the right in his campaign, even flopping from long-held legislative stances to match up with House Republicans. As in the Washington 3rd, things are fiercely in flux here.

3. Idaho 1 (incumbent Democrat Walt Minnick, Republican Raul Labrador).

In contrast to the two preceding races, most political watchers in Idaho will casually give you a prediction on this: Minnick wins, partly because of drawing significant Republican support, partly because of money (which he has been pouring into TV spots), partly other factors. Could be. But at a panel last week at which three analysts (your scribe being one) all predicted Minnick, one of them – the Idaho Statesman‘s Dan Popkey – said he thought the race would come down to within a couple of percentage points; and there was no argument on that from the other two. Of course, when an election is so close it will be decided within a couple of points, it becomes de facto nearly unpredictable. Forget the polls showing Minnick way ahead – in our view, they’re hogwash: If he wins, and he may, it’ll be close. Just how many Republicans will Minnick attract? How many Democratic loyalists will he lose? Who is being turned off by one campaign or the other? Does a massive national GOP tide sweep Republicans numbers even higher than usual in Idaho? The truth is, conventional measures seem to narrowly point to Minnick, but no close result here will come as a shock.

4. Washington 8 (incumbent Republican Dave Reichert, Democrat Suzan DelBene).

Up until recently, we gave up on this one as a race to put in the tossup category. Reichert was challenged by well-financed and highly energetic campaigns in the last two elections, and won clearly both times. So this year we have another younger female software exec who’s raised a lot of money and campaigned really hard and … well. And yet, something seems to have changed. Maybe subtle changes in Reichert’s appeal; there seems to be a slightly darker shading to the reporting and commentary about him. There seems to be a sense (in the newspaper endorsements, anyway, and sometimes elsewhere too) that DelBene is simply a stronger, more articulate, readier candidate than her two-time predecessor Darcy Burner was. And the most recent polling shows a dead heat. The moment, this looks like Reichert with an edge; but there’s movement here, it wouldn’t take a lot to flip, and we wouldn’t stick any actual money on it.

5. Washington 2 (incumbent Democrat Rick Larsen, Republican John Koster).

If the Republican national tide turns out to be a bust, or simply overestimated, then this looks like a pretty likely re-elect, again, for Larsen. If it isn’t, if there’s a really big red wave, this could be one of the seats swept up in it. Larsen has a solid electoral track record here, and has no special personal issues going into the race. He (at last report) has a strong money lead. But Koster is his strongest opponent in years, has a significant base of his own in Snohomish County, has campaigned hard, has polled well and actually narrowly outran Larsen, barely, in the August 17 primary election. Larsen has not been ignoring these indicators, and his campaign is plenty active – you can’t really consider him an underdog, and if conditions are normal he should still win. But Koster is well positioned to take advantage of good fortune should it appear, and it may.

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Idaho Oregon Washington

Maybe someone has done this before, but I’m unaware of any partisan candidate for high office in Washington, Oregon or Idaho who ever has. And to do it in the uncommonly polarized atmosphere of 2010 is nearly unbelievable.

Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who is being seriously opposed this year by Republican Jim Huffman, released his list of campaign county chairs, a structure in each county.

Nothing unusual there. Here’s what is: In all 36 Oregon counties, Wyden has Democratic and Republican co-chairs. As well as statewide Republican and Democratic co-chairs. (I cannot find a reference to a matching structure for Wyden in 2004; if he did then, let me know.)

Not all of the Republican co-chairs are exactly prominent Republicans. But within their respective counties, a considerable number of them are. The Republicans include a county commissioner in Clatsop, the mayor of Coos Bay in Coos County, a county judge in Crook County, a commissioner in Grant County, the mayor of Ontario in Malheur County, among others; quite a few of the remainder are prominent local business leaders.

Can anyone think of another statewide candidate for public office in the three states who has pulled off the same type of local endorsement structure within the opposing party?

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A short note on tonight’s Idaho gubernatorial debate on KTVB-TV, between incumbent Republican C.L. “Butch” Otter, Democrat Keith Allred and independent Jana Kemp. Basic point: It was more or less a three-way tie.

Otter did a lot better tonight than at his debate with Allred at Idaho Falls. This time he left obsessions with the federal government, the constitution and the 10th amendment, and what then felt like serious anger, at the door, and instead got into the practical details of managing the state and charting a direction. He presented himself much less ideologically, and to much better effect. He didn’t seem especially smooth or comfortable, but he did seem at least capable and well grounded.

Allred was maybe too grounded, mired in details where he shouldn’t have been (how many non-wonk voters actually followed the talk about whether the budget shortfall was in which fiscal year?) and not enough in some other places (he continues to open himself up for attack with his approach on sales tax exemptions, valid though his core point on it may be). Still comes across as highly informed and gubernatorial, though, and he had a nice closing.

Kemp was the surprise: At least a match in this debate for either of them – as good a debater, clear, informed but concise. If quality of debate were the measure for participation (and for most debate formats, it isn’t), she easily merited a place on stage.

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Last week, while in a group chat during a teacher conference, Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa (a Republican) was asked if he would show up at the court oral argument a few days hence, in the case of Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa. Ysursa smiled and said he might not attend all of it, because he was also planning to be travelling around the Treasure Valley on the GOP unity bus.

The joke reflects neatly on the catch the Idaho Republican Party is in. It may be the the most electorally successful Republican Party in the 50 states – the trial brief for Ysursa and the state of Idaho argues specifically that it is, and the point would be hard to dispute. But the party structure and leadership has gone so far as to sue the state (which is overwhelmingly governed by Republican officials) to change the way primary elections are conducted, on the argument that the party is being damaged by the way Idaho runs them.

The Idaho system (which is different from Oregon’s, which is also different from Washington’s) allows voters at primary election time to choose a ballot from one party and stick to the contests within it (along with some non-partisan choices, as for judges). But voters do that in secret; there’s no way of specifically knowing which party a staunch Republican or Democrat chooses while in the voting booth.

And it would be hard to sell the idea that within the Republican Party, conservatives are being shut out by primary elector voters. This year’s Idaho primary, for example, was most notable for the defeat of relatively moderate candidates by more-conservative ones in a string of races – hardly an indicator of Democrats or Democratic sympathizers exerting a lot of undue influence.

Still, in their brief, the party argues that a lot of voting in Republican Party primaries by non-party members occurs. And there’s no real doubt that it does. It cites a Moore poll saying that 39% of non-Republicans who vote typically vote in Republican primaries. The state brief attacks the methodology, but intuitively, the Moore number seems somewhere about right. (Polling indicates that somewhere around a third of Idaho voters consider themselves independent, but very likely few refrain from voting in the Republican primary.)

The party also tries to nail down a degree to which this affects the end results, and that is almost impossible to know for certain. Crossover voting seems to be extremely hard to orchestrate, and serious efforts at orchestration don’t seen to be very common. None of which may matter. Even the fact that it may be unknowable in a conclusive way sort of helps the party’s case.

The case may turn on the question of affiliation: To what extent do members of a political party get to choose who they affiliate with? The state (defending the current system) said the right is de minimis – minor – while the party suggests it is much more central. It may be hard to control even in places that require overt party registration. In Oregon, for example, where voters register by party preference (or none), voters can vote only on the primary for which they have publicly expressed a preference. But that doesn’t stop some voters from switching to another party just before a primary, and back just after. Still, party registration could be a party-strengthening tool. (What you think of that may depend on what you think of the parties.)

The party and state briefs are not very long and well worth the read. Mark this down as a case that could realistically go either way.

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You will search in vain for any credible political analyst who will say that Idaho Republican Senator Mike Crapo, running for re-election this year against little-known Democrat Tom Sullivan, is in any risk. And they’re right: Crapo is as likely to win as any Senate candidate in the country this year, as close to a slam dunk as you get. (Recall our policy: Nothing is ever 100% likely until after it happens.)

Maybe that’s why Sullivan’s debate this evening was so strong – maybe the most powerful challenger’s debate by a Democratic major office candidate we’ve seen in years. If you’re not going to win, why not simply go for it – put your strongest case and your real thinking out there, even if it does anger some people? While Sullivan didn’t make every point perfectly, and he made some questionable references, he skillfully constructed an argument that sliced into important parts of Crapo’s talking points and exposed some of the problems with them.

Sullivan, a first-time candidate and small businessman from Teton County, went right after Crapo from beginning to end. He attached him to Wall Street interests, with policy and campaign finance links, contrasted the benefits under tax policy received by the wealthy and the middle class, and let up nowhere. Even on the one occasion when he offered a compliment – on Crapo’s work in developing and passing the Owyhee Canyonlands legislation – he tossed in the barb that it was about his only major accomplishment in 12 years in the Senate. Most Idaho Democrats are hesitant to go after established Republicans this way (and not many probably have this much skill). Sullivan, while keeping his cool, dominated the debate against one of Idaho’s most experienced and well-liked politicians.

Crapo wasn’t at good advantage; he seemed seriously off his game. For much of his career the usual description of the man (here as elsewhere) was as a genial, affable guy with strong opinions but who got along with, and could work with, everybody. He was like that 12 years ago when he debated Democrat Bill Mauk, in what was one of the classiest and most high-minded set of debates the state has ever seen – as noted in this space way back then, you felt uplifted just watching the two of them. That Crapo was a world away from who we saw tonight: A man who came across as deeply angry and bitter, the more so as the debate wore on. Was the unvarnished Sullivan getting to him? Had immersion in Washington’s never-ending hate-fest?

He was also reduced from the thinking-man’s debate of 1998 to, today, just another rote reciter of national GOP talking points. Crapo’s personality, or at least the Crapo many Idahoans have known over the years, seemed buried away from view.

So too his ties to Idaho. Crapo was born and raised in Idaho, returned to Idaho Falls to practice law when he easily could have had a much more lucrative career in a big city, represented eastern Idaho in the legislature, half of the state in the U.S. House and all of it for a dozen years in the Senate, undoubtedly knowing Idaho extremely well … and yet tonight displayed practically no personal connection to it. (Sullivan made many more Idaho-specific references.) In the debate he made perfunctory references, and yes, they were perfunctory, to “Idaho” governing values (which he didn’t elucidate, or offer provenance), and to the Owyhee Canyonlands, and that was it. Otherwise, this could have been a cookie-cutter Republican senator from any state in the country. He didn’t even sound like an Idahoan; he sounded programmed by Republican consultants.

None of this is likely to change the election results, of course. Crapo is as near a lock for the seat as you can get.

But the debate was absolutely remarkable. Watch it via the Idaho Public Television debate page.

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